Familiar Script – Tuesday night’s 3-1 setback to the Predators in Nashville marked Washington’s sixth loss this season (including overtime and shootout setbacks) and it was also the fifth of the six in which Washington went into the third period with the score tied.
“This is a tough one to take,” confesses Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I thought for 56 minutes we played as good as we could play. We scored the goal – and the last two periods I thought we dominated – we scored the goal to take the lead and then we stopped playing. What are you going to say?”
Troy Brouwer’s goal in the 56th minute of play gave the Caps the game’s first goal, but Washington couldn’t make it stand up. Just 28 seconds later, Martin Erat evened it up for Nashville. Then Erat set up Colin Wilson’s game-winner with just 24.3 seconds left in regulation. Shea Weber’s empty-netter iced it for the Preds.
“I think all the guys on the ice thought it was off-sides so they stopped playing,” says Boudreau of Erat’s equalizer. “And [the Predators] didn’t stop playing. That’s why you have to play to the whistle. Just looking at the replay, guys were putting up their hands and they stopped skating and [the Predators] kept coming. That’s why it looked so easy.”
In their six losses this season, the Capitals have now been outscored by a combined 12-2. Two of the dozen opposing goals in those six games have come while the Washington net was empty in favor of a sixth attacker.
“That’s frustrating,” says Caps winger Mike Knuble. “I think guys are as upset as I’ve seen. That was frustrating. We really battled to get that lead. They tied it right away, but the least we should have done was force overtime.”
Net Men – Two terrific goaltenders went head to head on Tuesday night in the Bridgestone barn on Broadway, and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne emerged on top, stopping 39 of the 40 shots he faced on the night.
Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun – a Predator for the better part of a decade – deserved a better fate but was saddled with his third loss in 11 decisions. He made 28 saves on the night.
Rinne has stellar numbers in his home rink over the years. Including Tuesday’s win over Washington, Rinne is now 64-27-14 with 13 shutouts, a 2.14 GAA and a .928 save pct.
After tonight’s loss against Vokoun is 1-3 with a shutout a 2.01 GAA and a .931 save pct. against the Predators.
“We score that goal,” says Vokoun of Brouwer’s late tally. “We can only blame ourselves. We gave them the win. There’s not much else you can say. I think we played pretty good overall. But you get a 1-0 lead with five minutes left in the game, you can’t give up plays like that. I really don’t know what to say.
“It happened five minutes ago and I’m still stunned.”
Lifetime at the Bridgestone Arena, Vokoun is now 94-69-21 with 16 shutouts, a 2.32 GAA and a .921 save pct.
Supporting Cast – With the Caps top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Brouwer drawing the attention of Nashville’s top defensive duo and checking unit throughout the night, the Washington support players were in a position to help out offensively while going up against the rest of the Predators. That was a match-up that nearly paid off on a few occasions.
The Caps’ second line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin accounted for more than a third (14 of 40) shots on goal for the night. The lines of Marcus Johansson centering for Cody Eakin and Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern skating between Matt Hendricks and Knuble also acquitted themselves well on the night in the offensive zone, cycling pucks and creating scoring chances.
Halpern’s line nearly tallied the go-ahead goal seconds before Wilson’s eventual game-winner.
“I thought we were doing it the right way,” says Knuble. “We were grinding it and keeping the puck low. I don’t think we were taking very many chances there toward the end. I was down on my back, and then they came back and came right down and scored.”
Shots Fired – After managing a collective total of 37 shots in 125 minutes worth of hockey in two games against the New Jersey Devils this past weekend, Washington opened up its attack a bit more against the Preds tonight.
Midway through the first frame, Nashville was outshooting Washington 10-2. Thereafter, the Caps kept up a steady barrage of shots on Rinne.
The Caps fired 38 shots to Nashville’s 21 from the middle of the first until the end of the game. Coming into Tuesday’s tilt, the Preds had allowed an average of 32.6 shots on goal per game, the fourth most of any team in the league this season. That average got a slight bump northward tonight.
“Chance-wise,” begins Boudreau, “far and wide we had more chances and better chances if you take away the first 10 minutes of the game. We got the one but we couldn’t get the next one. That was the problem. Their goalie played great. Our goalie played very well. Then, once we scored, I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.”
Golden Opportunity – Nashville defensemen Ryan Suter (27:45) and Shea Weber (26:58) both rank in the NHL’s top five in terms of average ice time per game. The Predators are the only team in the league with two defensemen in the league’s top 10 in average ice time.
Both Suter (3:31 per game in shorthanded ice time) and Weber (3:09) are staples of the Nashville penalty killing corps, so when Washington got a rare power play opportunity with both of the big boys in the penalty box at the same time late in the first of a scoreless game, it would have been a prime chance for the Caps to capitalize.
Washington had 24 seconds with a 4-on-3 manpower advantage while both Weber and Suter were cooling their heels in the penalty box, then the Caps had two-man advantage for 32 seconds immediately after. They weren’t able to capitalize on either attempt.
By night’s end, both Suter (24:05) and Weber (22:06) saw their average ice time drop with a lighter than usual workload in the game against the Caps. Both players finished at plus-3 on the night, and Weber leads all NHL blueliners in that department at plus-14.
Close Calls – Four of the last six games between Washington and Nashville has been decided by a single goal and the other two have been decided by a pair of goals with one being a late empty-netter. Tuesday’s Nashville win ended a five-game Washington winning streak in the series and was the first win for the Predators over the Capitals since Dec. 7, 2005.
The Second Grand – The Predators debuted as an NHL franchise in 1998-99, becoming the 27th NHL franchise in the league’s Original 30. On Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, the Preds played in the 1000th game of their franchise history, a 2-1 shootout loss to the Canadiens.
“To me personally,” says Predators coach Barry Trotz, “I’m more of a team guy so I was impressed that we were at a thousand games in Nashville and we’ve gone through ownership changes and all that. But more impressively, we came to a non-traditional market where there wasn’t a lot of hockey background and probably not a lot of hockey fans to start.
“Now it’s come full circle where it is hockey town. There is a real, solid fan base and we are part of the Nashville DNA. To me that meant more than the thousand games, personally. Where it threw me off and it felt uncomfortable quite frankly and it felt like one of these things doesn’t belong here is when they started talking about the names that have been with a team for a thousand games. There are some pretty legendary names and I’m far from legendary.
“But I was really proud of the fact that the team has grown up here and has deep roots in Nashville now.
Down On The Farm – The ECHL South Carolina Stingrays spent Tuesday night in Greenville taking on the Road Warriors. The Stingrays came up on the short end of a 3-1 score.
Sean Dolan scored the Stingray’s lone goal, and Philipp Grubauer made 29 stops in the South Carolina nets.
South Carolina is now a point behind the Gwinnett Gladiators for the lead in the ECHL’s South Division.
By The Numbers – Brooks Laich led the Caps with seven shots on goal … Ovechkin led the Caps with three hits … John Carlson led the Caps with three blocked shots … Defenseman Dennis Wideman was the only Capital to skate more than 20 minutes in the game; he logged 23:25 … Jerred Smithson paced the Preds with five hits.